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How the NCAA’s New NIL Policy May Lead to “Buckets” of Money for Bueckers

Updated: Aug 11, 2022


As a freshman playing for a program that is oftentimes described as a “dynasty,” it would be understandable if Minnesota native Paige Bueckers did not immediately make an impact when she arrived in Storrs, Connecticut to throw on the Husky jersey. After all, she is playing under coaching legend Geno Auriemma, in a gym whose banners display the University’s 11 National Championships, and whose alumni network includes the likes of Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore, and, well, more.

This could not be further from what happened.

Bueckers dominated the college game as soon as she set foot on the floor. Perhaps most notably, Bueckers was named the 2021 Naismith Player of the Year, an award considered by many to be the pinnacle of success in collegiate basketball. In short order, “Paige Bueckers” became a household name, but unlike the professional athletes who attract similar attention, the prodigious freshman could not earn anything on her name, image, or likeness per NCAA regulations. As the 2020-2021 season wrapped up, it seemed that the time when Bueckers’ face could be on a Wheaties box was far, far into the future.

Luckily for her and collegiate student-athletes across the nation, this restriction was lifted by the NCAA’s implementation of an interim name, image, and likeness policy deemed effective on July 1, 2021. According to NCAA President Mark Emmert, “This is an important day for college athletes since they all are now able to take advantage of name, image and likeness opportunities.”[1]

Although the NCAA acts as the governing body that initially allowed the implementation of said rules, universities will have the ability to adopt their own policies. The University of Connecticut policy on name, image, and likeness went into effect on July 12, 2021, and provides, in relevant part:

“Student-athletes enrolled at the University may use their name, image, and likeness (NIL) to earn compensation through an endorsement contract or employment in an activity that is unrelated to any intercollegiate athletic program and obtain the legal or professional representation of an attorney or sports agency through a written agreement, provided such student-athlete complies with the University Policy of Student Athlete’s Name, Image, and Likeness…these procedures, and applicable law.”[2]

Bueckers wasted no time in pursuing her own profitability.

On July 13, 2021, under the advisement of her newly hired Wasserman legal team, Bueckers filed an application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office for the moniker, “Paige Buckets.”[3] The nickname, made popular in the wake of her freshman season success, will allow UConn and collegiate basketball fans alike to purchase “athletic apparel, namely, shirts, pants, jackets, footwear, hats and caps, athletic uniforms” that proudly rep the trademark once registered.[4] Now, for the question on many of our minds—how do trademarks work?

Think of it this way: when you hear the lyric, “Checks over stripes,” what comes to mind? For many of us, we immediately register the former term with Nike and the latter with its ever-present competitor, Adidas. In fact, one may argue that the mere sight of either of these symbols would alert almost anyone to register a shirt, hat, or other piece of athletic apparel with one brand or the other. How can seemingly unimpressive symbols, be they simply a “check” or three well-placed stripes, result in our immediate recognition of two billion-dollar organizations?

The short answer: trademarks.

Trademarks, which operate at both the federal and state levels, serve as tangible representations of the service a business is providing to the public. In the eyes of the consumer, trademarks allow us to identify the product and avoid confusion. A trademark’s value is, in essence, created in the minds of the people using the product or service as they navigate the ever-evolving world of commerce.

With this newly passed legislation, Paige Bueckers will take advantage of her opportunity to enter that world for herself.

[1] [2] [3] [4] Id.

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